BDSM (Bondage, Discipline/Dominance, Sadism/Submission, Masochism) is a spectrum of interests that range from simple things like blindfolds and feather ticklers to whips, chains, blood, and screams of delighted suffering. It’s highly stigmatized and misunderstood in our culture, which I think is unfair. BDSM is no more violent than the things described in Scripture, and in fact Scripture is sometimes the inspiration for them.
As a former missionary and pastor who went to Bible college, deconverted from fundamentalist Evangelical Christianity, and is now a professional Dominatrix and full-time BDSM practitioner, I am in a unique position to comment on this topic. I’ll probably write a book on this someday… but for now, here are a few of my observations.
Quick things to know about BDSM:
50 Shades of Grey is NOT a good example of BDSM. Christian Grey is abusive and a stalker, not a responsible Dominant.
BDSM is sometimes sexual, but often it is not. Platonic friends will often play together and many types of play have nothing to do with sex.
My favorite BDSM acronym is PRICK: Personally Responsible Informed Consensual Kink. Others include RACK: Risk Aware Consensual Kink, and SSC: Safe, Sane, and Consensual. This sums up BDSM attitudes on consent quite well. It is core to everything that we do.
The Bible discusses sexual slavery at great length. Women are property, owned or ruled by men, always submissive to male power and authority. Women had no say over their own bodies, and they were the property of their fathers until a husband or slave master took over control. “Wives, obey your husbands.”
In BDSM, sexual slavery is often a theme. But unlike the fundamentalist version of this, in BDSM the focus is on everyone’s consent, pleasure, and willingness to be involved, and all genders participate in whatever role they enjoy most. Unlike in the Bible, where women who broke sexual laws were stoned or forced to marry their rapist, and where sexual submission was compulsory, in BDSM all a woman has to say is her Safe Word and it all stops. She has control of what she allows to be done to her; even a Dominant man who is her master is limited by the control she gives him. No one can have sex with her or hit her unless she allows it. No one can put a submissive collar on her unless she consents, and she can remove it if she feels it is no longer a safe, healthy, or pleasurable relationship.
Nowhere in the Bible is a woman’s bodily autonomy expressly protected. She is always property with no say in her life, and no one cares about her consent. In BDSM, bodily autonomy and consent is core to everything that we do. It is what separates our play from abuse.
Violence is a key part of the Bible. Growing up I read the Bible through a couple dozen times, easily, and I studied it further in Bible college. I know far too well all the stories of violence, rape, forced marriage, child marriage, genocide, war, mass drowning of women and children, and murder. Most of it was justified because either God allegedly did it or commanded it to be done, so I had to learn how to accept much of this violence in my mind. Now as an adult who is not religious, that violence ingrained in my mind needs a healthy outlet. BDSM allows me a healthy, consensual outlet for my inner violent side which was encouraged by all the violence I studied in Scripture.
Control is also a huge theme in the Bible. There are rules, laws, and restrictions on almost every part of life. And, there are severe punishments for not following the rules (social punishments, banishment, execution, Hell, etc.) So, being trained to follow strict rules was something I was taught from an early age. Is it any surprise now that I enjoy intense BDSM relationships where I give over control to someone else, and obey their commands? I was groomed to do exactly that. Except I’m not ashamed anymore for saying “no” to things I’m not ok with. That is NOT something the Bible taught me.
Corporal punishment! “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” The Bible encourages spanking disobedient children. I was spanked as a child and so were many of my kinky friends. Is it any surprise that as an adult I enjoy being spanked and ordered around in the bedroom too? The difference now is that it’s consensual and pleasurable for me. I am only spanked or ordered around if I consent to that kind of play, and I only play with people I trust to respect my personal boundaries and stop when I’ve had enough.
Pain. Masochists are people who gain pleasure or fulfillment from experiencing pain. I like to compare it to runners who like the “Runner’s High” that they get when they push themselves physically; endorphins are released that feel good. In fundamentalist Christianity, especially back in the Dark Ages and Medieval times, it was not uncommon for some religious fundamentalists to beat themselves, starve themselves in extended fasting, and otherwise cause discomfort and pain to themselves. This was believed to bring them closer to God somehow and people do this even to this day, as I know from personal experience in my religious days. I read about these extremist people growing up, and sometimes they were portrayed as heroes for me to emulate. Is it any wonder that I am not afraid to experience pain now and even find positives in it? Fundamentalism taught me that it’s ok to like pain if it’s in service to God or in punishment of wrongdoing. Why isn’t it ok to enjoy consensual pain because it brings me and my partner pleasure, or because it “gets me out of my head” for a while and I can relax?
The biggest differences that I have experienced between religious fundamentalism and BDSM are freedom, consent, and bodily autonomy. Instead of trying to force myself into a box I didn’t fit into, now I am in a world where I control my own life even when I am playing a submissive role. If I don’t like what’s happening and feel scared or misused, I can say no and make it stop. I couldn’t do that with religion. There was no Safe Word to end the terror of Hell. I had no authority over my own life, I had to obey and follow men or God in all things even if I disagreed. A “woman’s place” is now whatever I decide it is.